Helter ~ Shelter

An exploration into the Organization of Temporary Communities

Photographs by Maxwell MacKenzie

An Exhibition at the AIA Headquarters Gallery 

1735 New York Avenue   WDC   20006

Opening Reception:   Thursday, November 1st    5:30 - 8:30 pm

Exhibition continues through January 2013

~ helter-skelter:  in a haphazard manner, chaotic,  lacking a visible order or plan


“ Architecture is inhabited sculpture. “  - Constantin Brancusi

In this exhibition, noted architectural photographer Maxwell MacKenzie journeys out into the wilder parts of California, Nevada, Minnesota, West Virginia and Florida to explore 

what “community” means once one leaves the city and its suburbs.  He presents diverse examples of how people create temporary structures, both factory-built and homemade, to protect themselves from the elements, and then organize these shelters into larger communities, while projecting through design and decoration, their own individual identities and personalities.   Some of these communities stand for decades, until the river floods and they are trucked away to higher ground, and others are only in existence for a long weekend. 

Included in “ Helter-Shelter “ are mural-size panoramic photographs that illustrate a variety of solutions to the challenge of temporary housing in sometimes raw and hostile rural environments.   Whether on wheels, floats, or skids, these tiny dwellings live lightly on the Earth, taking the “Not-So-Big-House-Movement” to the extreme, at the lowest possible cost, with minimum impact on the environment. 

“Burning Man,“ an extraordinary explosion of human creativity and imagination, takes place every August in the Nevada desert and is the largest arts festival in the country.   The 55,000+ inhabitants of Burning Man bring tents, domes and RVs and work together to construct the meticulously planned, pedestrian and bike-only, “Black Rock City,” which lasts exactly seven days.   Participants, following Burning Man’s principle of ”Extreme Self-Reliance,“ bring all their food and water into the city with them,  “Leaving No Trace“ when they depart, making Burning Man a remarkable example of sustainability, and environmentally responsible community.

Coming across hundreds of  RVs with their motorcycle trailers gathered in the baking windswept California desert near the Salton Sea, at first one perceives only chaos.  But look more closely: familiar patterns emerge, and again traces of an underlying organic order become apparent.  However temporary, a kind of town is being built.  The need for community is being expressed.  Just as the wagon trains of the pioneers circled for protection, the RVs and “motor-homes “ are similarly situated, parked around a horseshoe arena and the communal picnic table, creating a central, protected “urban square” where people gather.

Another large group of Americans, from all social strata, often retired, have abandoned their permanent homes altogether, whether voluntarily or to foreclosure, and taken to the road for good.  They have become migratory, like waterfowl, and follow the seasons, adapting to life in a ten-foot wide, metal-encased, pre-fab mobile world.  Downsizing and concentrating their resources, some barely survive and others live much more luxuriously in their custom, marble-floored, multi-slide-out $ 400,000 motor coaches than they did before.

From the desert domes out west, and the colorful ice-house and houseboat communities in Minnesota to Airstream rallies in Florida, like-minded people gather in their temporary camps for a hundred different reasons; to escape cities & immerse themselves in nature, to share sporting and cultural interests, to escape the winter heating bills up north, or simply just to wander.

People find and unite with their respective tribes, claim a piece of ground and make it home.

For more information please contact:

Amy Medawar

Manager ~ Headquarters Events

The American Institute of Architects

1735 New York Avenue, NW

Washington, DC   20006